Architecture of love

Joanna Hogg talks about making her third film Exhibition.

by Amber Wilkinson

Viv Albertine in Exhibition. "She was very honest in her approach. It's a balance where it's not her and where she puts herself into it"
Viv Albertine in Exhibition. "She was very honest in her approach. It's a balance where it's not her and where she puts herself into it"
Exhibition is writer/director Joanna Hogg's third feature and she shows no signs of tiring in exploring themes of female sexuality and upper middle-class frostiness that marked out her earlier films Unrelated and Archipelago. This time, her focus is a middle-aged couple D and H (played by former punk band singer Viv Albertine and conceptual artist Liam Gillick) and the fractures that begin to show in their relationship once they decide to move from the designer house they live in, in London.

Hogg introduced the film and took part in a lively Q&A about it at Bradford International Film Festival last week. Speaking about the origins of the film, she explained how she came to know the architect who built it - James Melvin.

"He died aged 99," she said. "I met him and his wife in the early 90s and met the house at the same time. I was thinking about the house alongside thinking about depicting a marriage between a middle-aged couple. It's a character they've buit a relationship with over the years. It can be beautiful, loving... but I'm also interested in the house dictating. I can see both chaos and the calm and I like to deptict that."

The character of D, in particular, embraces both those extremes, on the one hand seemingly neurotic about H's leaving the house at night yet on the other able to throw herself into risky and exhibitionist performance art. It's a raw and dedicated performance, so how did Hogg come to cast these two first-timers?

"It was really important that I found that couple really early in the process... unfortunately, it didn't work out like that. It was three weeks before the shoot. I was in admiration of them. Despite being very very individual characters. I don't know how they would have got on without being thrown together like that." Hogg said that she has known Albertine for years, which helped in terms of some of the more risque things she is asked to do during the course of the film.

Hogg added: "She said: 'Just do anything with me that you want.' She was very honest in her approach. It's a balance where it's not her and where she puts herself into it."

Despite the overwhelming naturalism of most of the film, there is also an edge of the surreal in aspects of the house - the geography of which is never fully mapped out - and in a dream sequence which, in a departure for Hogg, was shot with a more fluid camera.

"I feel in a way my work is going a little bit away from naturallism," she said. "I'm still interested in terms of reference in naturalism but I'm going towards story more surreal or dreamlike. "

She also talked about her creative process when preparing a film.

"I'm thinking about ideas over many weeks and weeks," she said, "The gestation period takes many many months. I always find it difficult to leave a film behind me so there were ideas from Archipelago."

And she revealed that she works on a combination of scripting and improvisation, saying that her films are often a combination with both.

She added: "I did something different with this film. With this one I scripted more like a short novel, with photos and scripted what they would say. I sensed they needed more from me, more on the page. Everything was done in a much more conventional way. They had the script for the scenes, not long enough for them to learn the lines but enough to leave an imprint. It's a bit like hunting. I'd shoot the scene and let everyone move around how they want to and possibly say what they want to, within limits, then I moved the scene around until I got what I wanted out of it.

" I'll very happily get rid of something if it's not working.With my editor Helle le Fevre we pushed each other. I feel comfortable with my collaborators and they understand what I'm getting at, so you can push and be more adventurous."

Adventurous is certainly the word for Exhibition which, despite its largely confined setting, shows signs of an expansion in terms of Hogg's work. The film is released across the UK on April 25 and is out now on limited release in the US.

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